Pernell Roberts did not want to wear a toupee on Bonanza — and it once fell off in a scene

Adam Cartwright had a hair-raising stunt in season six.

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The Cartwright clan might have looked mighty different. Bonanza series creator David Dortort had different actors in mind early in the casting process. For the patriarchal role of Ben, Dortort initially considered Lee J. Cobb, who would land a role on The Virginian. Former Little Rascal and future Baretta Robert Blake nearly had the role of Little Joe, as did Robert Fuller, who saddled up on Laramie instead.

The rugged Claude Akins, hot off roles in The Caine Mutiny (1954) and Rio Bravo (1959) came to Dortort's mind as a potential Adam Cartwright. Dortort took notice of Pernell Roberts on the Universal lot. An NBC exec had likewise taken note of Roberts in the big-screen Western Ride Lonesome. The decision was made to cast the Georgia native as the eldest son.

In the first week of shooting, Roberts walked into Dortort's office. He removed his toupee. Dortort was not aware that Roberts wore a hairpiece.

Roberts suggested that he'd rather play Adam au naturel, without his toupee. Dortort refused, claiming the star looked "15 years older without it." He was 31 years old at the time. For perspective, Greene, his fictional pa, was 44.

So, Adam Cartwright kept his hair.

Well, for the most part.

In the opening scene of "Thanks for Everything, Friend," an early episode from season six that aired in 1964, Adam falls into a river when freeing a trapped calf. The rapids sweep the friendly Man in Black away — and rip off the actor's toupee. For a fleeting moment, the viewer can spot a bald Roberts flailing about in the water. The flap of hair quickly returns. You can watch the clip above.

Roberts should not have felt shame. In fact, he was hardly alone. Both Greene and Dan Blocker (Hoss) wore hairpieces, as well. Greene had his own toupee mishap when leaping into a pond for a stunt. Michael Landon was the only one of the four core Cartwrights to not wear a toupee. Roberts would get his wish to act without it, at last, when he became the star of the M*A*S*H spin-off Trapper John, M.D.

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srstein 15 months ago
Love the trivia about the shows I become to love
RearAdmiral 15 months ago
I’m currently watching Bonanza on You Tube, up to season 12 now. Yes, Adam Cartwright was my favorite of the Cartwright clan and I was upset he was no longer on the show after season 6. His replacement later on was Guy Williams who would have been a good fit but only lasted a few episodes. I had heard something about Little Joe being jealous of him when around females casts and was probably responsible for his departure, how true I don’t know. Later on Candy was also selected to fill in the void and lasted up to season 11 and then came season 12 with a different theme song which I thought the producer completely went overboard.
Dale 15 months ago
While I mostly liked the CHARACTER of Adam, I'm not the biggest fan of Pernell who seemed to literally flip his wig because not everything was exactly to his liking. I didn't even like his part at the beginning of the shows where all four Cartwrights ride up to the camera and Pernell sits on his horse stone faced, expressionless, barely cracking a smile with what looked like an arrogant smirk. Smug indifference was the only emotion I saw, rug or no rug. I liked Candy a LOT more.
Cowgirl Dale 4 months ago
Pernell did not like the way his character was written. Adam was the eldest son & his father's right hand man but always had to get permission from his father to do anything. In 1 episode, 3 grown men had to stand around & wait for their father to tell them to get the doctor & the sheriff for a badly injured man. In another episode, Ben Cartwright sends his 3 grown sons to bed like like little kids.
Michino82 15 months ago
I believe that Guy Williams was given a role as a Cartwright cousin who was cast as the essential replacement to cover Pernell Roberts departure.
Tommygunz 15 months ago
I loved Lorne Greene as father Ben Cartwright, but I think Lee J. Cobb wouldn’t have been bad for that particular part either, could see him doing it too.
speedster16 15 months ago
He was never comfortable in that role as Adam Cartwright. It should have been played by another actor . He stood it as long as he could and left in 1965 - but, like the prodigal,the grass off the PONDEROSA wasn't much greener . He did finally land his own tv series on CBS TRAPPER JOHN ,MD - which lasted seven seasons. He afterwards did things his way - and was known for his versatile characters played and versatile personality off the screen. He died of pancreatic cancer in 2010.
Cowgirl speedster16 4 months ago
He went back to doing theater when he left Bonanza & also had many guest starring roles in other shows.
Beta6 15 months ago
The article mentioned a man named Greene, but didn't say who Greene was. It did say 'fictional pa to Adam', Ben wasn't the dad? Did someone whose real name is Greene show up in the series? Inquiring minds....
AllisonWunderland Beta6 15 months ago
I'm assuming they're referring to Lorne Greene
Hope Beta6 15 months ago
They are talking about Lourene Greene. That is who played Ben, Adam's dad.
AgingDisgracefully 15 months ago
All hairline "adjustments" come with the caveat, "You want it. You take it. You pay the price." (Old Springsteen lyric)
Dead-rodent toupees, the desperate, not-seen-so-much-anymore bar-code comb-over or experiments in colorizing...don't blame the world for noticing. Or laughing.
Did anyone see John Fogerty at a recent July 4th concert? Still sounded like the old CCR guy, but looked like he joined the Shameless Dye Guy Club with Carlton Fisk, Tony LaRussa...
You probably know a few yourself.
Like the guy in the White House? He was walking down Sesame Street, found an old orange
Oscar the Grouch muppet in a trash bin, duct taped it to his head and viola, instant toupee.
Steve Martin and Tony Randall had the best rugs, you couldn't tell. Duke Wayne had an excellent one, when he visited with our guys in Vietnam he took photos with many of them without it on
and told everyone how much he hated wearing it.
My buddy Jack took one with Duke and one of the girls from Laugh In, forgot her name but she was patting Wayne's bald dome.
Tom AgingDisgracefully 15 months ago
I don't see much hair on David Gilmour anymore. He's prit'neer bald, used to be he had more hair than you could shake a stick at.
dujon55 15 months ago
My favorite Cartwright with or without toupee
TheDavBow3 dujon55 15 months ago
My favorite too.
TheDavBow3 15 months ago
I hope Pernell was able to scoop his rug out of the water! Probably looked like a beaver out there 😂
bewest169 15 months ago
Hated the Cartwright Adam glade he wss replaced
bewest169 15 months ago
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Wiseguy SeenEnough 15 months ago
After a couple of years, the Candy character, even though he was not a son. Candy left too, later, but he came back in an attempt to fill the loss of Hoss.
JZ6030 15 months ago
I never knew Claude Akins was considered for the part of Adam. Honestly I would have rather seen him getting the part as he was a big favorite of mine.
Granny JZ6030 15 months ago
I always liked Claude Akins, but I as a teenager I loved Pernell Roberts as Adam. He was my favorite Cartwright. I rarely watched Bonanza after he left.
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